Being a Renault owner and ‘aficionado’ at the time, I felt that this badge engineering exercise, because overseas it’s the rather Romanian Dacia Duster, was an insult to Renault products.
But over the years the Duster has evolved, and includes more Renault parts as we progress through its lifecycle. As a result, the Duster has wormed its way into my heart, especially the EDC (Efficient Dual-Clutch)-equipped version I drove recently.
Why the Duster is a success
The Duster has been a bit of an enigma for me. Its interior quality and indeed its general design isn’t exactly appealing in the traditional sense, yet I find it charming and would have no problem owning one. Take the now (thankfully) defunct Renault Logan for example, the sedan version of a Duster in essence.
I certainly don’t have any positive feelings towards that product, yet in principle, it is very much the same as the Duster. There’s a rugged charm about the Duster, an honesty, a sort of what you see is what you get experience when driving one. It’s the simplicity, cost-effective packaging and unpretentious nature of this small SUV that I feel has lured thousands of South Africans to Duster ownership since 2013.
Recollections of my time with that petrol-powered Duster come back to me each time I drive the updated model. There have been significant improvements made to the Duster, not only in terms of its design, but also infotainment, features and powertrain technology.
The single most important aspect of the Duster, for me at least, is the 1.5-litre dCi turbodiesel engine. This small mill has been doing duty in Renault and Nissan products for years, and is as robust as it is frugal. With 80kW/250Nm and a kerb weight of 1224kg, the Duster dCi makes for acceptable progress, but it is the fuel consumption that impresses most with over 1 000km being achievable from its 50-litre tank.
That EDC gearbox
Renault’s EDC gearbox, both the six-and seven-speed variants, have been a bit of a hit and miss within its model ranges. In its sportier offerings such as the Clio RS and Megane GT, it fell short of providing the automated manual experience, while in products such as the Kadjar and Captur, it has provided a slightly more enjoyable driving experience than your average torque converter automatic.
In the Duster though, I feel that the gearbox had found its perfect match with that 1.5-litre diesel motor and the Nissan / Renault B0-platform. There is a bit of turbo lag, but once on the go, the ‘box does a proper job of getting you where you need to be. This dCi auto also gets a rather stylish steering wheel lifted from the Clio, which brings up the perceived quality of the interior.
The only aspect missing from this package is all-wheel drive as the auto Duster remains front-wheel driven, while the solitary all-wheel drive model retains its six-speed manual transmission.
Living with Duster
A week spent with the Duster, in addition to a month with a manual version two years ago, revealed some interesting quirks. The car was not really designed to have features such as a touchscreen infotainment system, cruise control or electric mirrors, so the addition of these items has resulted in some interesting post-design engineering.
The cruise control for example is turned on and off with a flick of a switch below the infotainment screen, which itself is mounted really low in relation to the seating position, while the electric window operation is done near the driver’s seatbelt clip, below the handbrake.
Quirks aside, the Duster is a practical, small SUV with a large 475-litre boot and a wide loading area. It is a great car for families with an active lifestyle. Factor in the reasonable sticker price of R299 900 with a three-year/ 45 000km service plan and five-year/150 000km warranty, and you have a good all-round vehicle package.